An inexpensive Windows tablet for portable SDRs?

A tablet with two USB ports would be ideal.

I’ve never been a fan of tablet PCs. I have an old Android tablet that I occasionally use to watch Netflix and read eBooks, but when I want to interact with a computer, I typically want the convenience of a proper keyboard and the precision of a mouse or large track pad.

With that said, this year at the Winter SWL Fest, I was co-host of a forum called: “Time Travel, Teleportation & Spectrum Hoarding for the Contemporary DXer.” My good friend and co-host, Mark Fahey brought his Windows tablet PC and we used it to demonstrate how easily and effectively SDRs can be taken to the field and spectrum recordings can be reviewed practically anywhere. Indeed, Mark tunes through his spectrum recordings while taking the train to work! (How cool is that!?!)

This week, I reviewed a guest post about portable SDRs by London Shortwave; afterward, I decided that I must begin the search for a Windows tablet. Since I would only use this tablet for portable SDR work, I really want to keep it as affordable as possible ($200 US or less).

It appears to me that there are a few things that you must overcome in a portable SDR package including: mitigating internal noise produced by the tablet and accessories, and the ability to power the tablet and the SDR at the same time.

Windows Tablet Wishlist:

  • Inexpensive (less than $200)
  • Enough speed and memory to run SDR applications and record spectrum to an internal SD card or external portable drive
  • Separate USB and power ports or the ability to power both the tablet and SDR at the same time

My choices so far:

Readers: Your recommendations and advice are most welcome! Please comment especially if you have experience using tablet/SDR combos.

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9 thoughts on “An inexpensive Windows tablet for portable SDRs?

  1. Mehdi

    I bought an Onda V919 Air for about 190$. It’s a Chinese tablet.
    With a 10 inch, very high pixel density screen (2048 * 1536)
    In my opinion, 10 inch is better for viewing the spectrum.
    I’ve run lots of SDR programs on it (Windows 10) and tested both SDRPlay and RTL dongles.

    Reply
    1. Thomas Post author

      Good question, John. Unfortunately, I’ve had rather rotten luck with the Dell. It’s not an issue of compatibility, per se, rather an issue of getting dud Dell Venue 8 refurbished tablets. I’ve been through four of them, so far–all of them have had either display or power-up issues. Blinq has been great about taking them back, but, frankly, I think I want to find a different tablet at this point. I’ll most likely make a proper post update in the coming days.

      Thanks for asking!
      Cheers,
      Thomas

      Reply
  2. Thomas Post author

    Well, all, I bit the bullet and purchased a 32GB version of the Dell Venue Pro 8 via Blinq. It’s used, but I’ve been very pleased with Blinq’s return policy, so took a bit of a risk at $113 shipped. Also purchased the matching BlueTooth keyboard and the USB/Charging dongle Neil mentioned. Since the dongle was $19 shipped, I opted for it instead of piecing one together. Hopefully, it’ll do the job. -Thomas

    Reply
  3. Alex K.

    I’d also like to see some comparisons and empirical analysis of RFI from these tablets, coupling through the USB cable and/or through the air.

    My limited experience with SDRs has already shown me a gigantic difference between notebook computers in those terms, whether on battery or even worse on AC charger. RFI should be easy enough to measure with the connected SDR itself.

    The hard part would be conducting a comprehensive rundown of several tablet / SDR combos. Somebody has to have access to several currently available tablets. One way to do it would be to buy half a dozen or so, then return all but the best performer.

    Reply
  4. Buck aka ko0y

    I have the DT18, costing $109. Two drawbacks with it are the single micro USB port, and the 1GB memory. I got around the first by using this EasyAcc powered hub from amazon: amazon.com/gp/product/B00PF9AB1O/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o02_s01?ie=UTF8&psc=1 and a micro/USB adapter. I can charge the unit, use the bundled keyboard, and have room for a mouse, flash drive, and radio device. As to the second, I installed a 64GB micro-SD. You can install many programs on D:, and make symbolic links from C: to save space, such as roaming data and Windows Install folder.

    So far, I have installed MS Ofice 2007, APRIS32, RMS Express, and fldigi, and have almost 3GB available on C, and 58 GB on D. I have used the radio programs with a SignaLink sound card and a TT4 TNC/Tracker. All run without problems. I will install SDR# after I receive the SDRPlay I ordered.

    The display on the DT18 is very good, but the touch screen is 5 point, not 10 point as on my ipad mini. Because of this, using a mouse is useful, but not necessary. DT also makes an android tablet, but I haven’t tried that. I can recommend the DT 18 with Windows for portable radio apps.

    Reply
  5. Neil W2NDG

    The Stream 7 is currently $79 from Microsoft direct:

    http://www.microsoftstore.com/store/msusa/en_US/pdp/HP-Stream-7-Signature-Edition-Tablet/productID.308781500

    ..and from the MS Store on eBay with free shipping, also for $79:

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/New-HP-Stream-7-Tablet-32-GB-Windows-8-1-Signature-Edition-Office-365-Personal-/281531363490?_trksid=p2054897.l4275

    You can get an adapter to give you the charge/USB port capability from Dell which someone has verified to work with the Stream 7: http://accessories.dell.com/sna/productdetail.aspx?c=us&l=en&s=dhs&cs=19&sku=470-ABES

    …or take a gamble on this adapter at Amazon that should work fine too: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00CXAC1ZW/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_nS_ttl?_encoding=UTF8&colid=3C339WJJB5ZNY&coliid=I36Y4M965ZIK6Z

    I would guess that these may also work fine on the sometimes-$59 Winbook from Microcenter, but they seem to be out of them, and I like the specs on the HP a little bit more (even though they use the same CPU).

    I think we’re going to see more and more of these single-port devices coming, and I’m not particularly happy about it.

    –Neil W2NDG radiokitguide.com

    Reply
  6. Mighty Mik

    I personally don’t have one, but wondering if the HP Stream 7 is powerful enough for this … and it’s only ~$100 or so.

    Reply

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